Family Mart no longer gives a fork.

In Japan, companies are so committed to customer service that they don’t just say the customer is always right, they say “The customer is god.” But starting next month, if you walk into a branch of convenience store Family Mart and ask for a fork, they’ll be happy to give you a pair of chopsticks instead.

▼ Awareness posters for the new policy

This isn’t part of a commitment to traditional Japanese culture, but the latest example of an increased modern consciousness of environmental issues. In 2020 Family Mart, along with the rest of Japan’s major convenience store chains, began charging customers for plastic shopping bags, in an effort to encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable bags instead. Family Mart is now looking to further reduce the amount of plastic trash its operations generate by switching from providing customers with plastic forks to offering them wooden chopsticks instead. With roughly 16,600 Family Mart branches in Japan, the chain says that this new policy will reduce plastic waste by 250 metric tons (about 551,000 pounds) a year.

▼ Family Mart switched to forks with holes in their handles a while back to decrease the amount of plastic used, but want to go farther with its waste reduction.

Unlike in some other countries, where convenience stores are primarily a place to buy snacks and drinks, many people in Japan regularly by meals at convenience stores, especially busy urban office workers and blue collar workers in industries such as construction or transportation who may not have many restaurants near their workplaces. In addition to bento boxed lunches and rice bowls, pasta dishes are also big sellers at convenience stores, and most Japanese people use forks when eating them. While chopsticks work fine for ramen or other Asian noodle dishes, they can be tricky to use with Western-style pasta like spaghetti, since the heavier sauces make for a bigger mess if they’re slurped, and it’s a lot easier to eat the noodles in bites when you can wrap them around the prongs of a fork.

Still, there’s at least one pasta restaurant chain in Japan where chopsticks are the default, so it can be done. In addition, Family Mart won’t be completely banishing forks from its stores, Adults living in Japan generally have no difficulties using chopsticks, young children sometimes struggle with them while they’re still developing their fine motor skills, and some adults with physical disabilities find it easier to use a fork. Family Mart also acknowledges that customers from overseas, who didn’t grow up using chopsticks, may also be unable to eat with them, and so forks will still be provided, upon request, to customers in those three demographics.

Family Mart’s new policy goes into effect on October 4.

Source: Family Mart via Yahoo! Japan News/Shokuhin Shimbun via Jin
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